Shanghai's clout makes it an ideal place for young Chinese fashion designers
It's clear to many who are familiar with the region that Shanghai's star is rising in terms of fashion clout, and it's not just well publicised "It" girls of the city - like stylist Leaf Greener - who are finding themselves on the pages of international magazines. Shanghai's fashion week, which ended a few weeks ago, shone a global spotlight on the city's emerging young talent, while attracting big international names.
The following week I visited a small showroom in an old house off the tree-lined Changshu Lu, where I met young designer Xin Zhao of REdesigns, a small boutique accessory label. Dressed in a short knit tee and high waisted pleated slacks tapered at the ankles, the Shanghai native wouldn't look out of place strolling around London's Old Spitalfields Market on a lazy weekend.
After studying art and design in New Zealand, Zhao began working in a fashion company as a graphic designer. She discovered a love for vintage clothing and amassed quite a collection in her travels, then started selling them at flea markets as a hobby.
REdesigns was born in 2012 when Zhao decided to start a label that takes inspiration from vintage styles, but with added contemporary flair.
The vision is quite singular: all bags are made from leathers and vintage tapestry. Her first collection comprised 50 items, the minimum order at the small Shanghai factory she sourced for production.
"I'm trying to build up a new image of vintage bags," she says. "That's why I called my brand 're…', as in redefining, redesigning that retro vintage feeling. When you see the items, you get the feeling of a vintage product, but also a very original bag."
Next came shoes - retro flat pointed styles, and those reminiscent of the 1960s and '70s with small wooden block heels. The label became Zhao's full-time gig.
What really put REdesigns on the local fashion radar was her colourful, boxy spring-summer 2015 bag collaboration (shown here) with a famous local Shanghai fashion label called Fake Natoo. The brands worked together again for the autumn-winter line, and the bags drew a lot of attention on the runway. Rectangular shapes with fluffy fake fur detachable straps, this latest collaboration makes for Zhao's most contemporary, fashion-forward designs.
She says working with a "mature" fashion brand was a good learning opportunity. "It gave me an opportunity to try a different style, to understand their concept and also reflect on how I can run my own label."
Zhao is looking to expand her sales channels and get her story and designs out to more people. "Luckily, I live in Shanghai," she says.
The city has proved to be friendly to fashion start-ups, Zhao says. "People here are so open-minded, as an independent designer here, you can always find your audience."
Another win for young start-ups in Shanghai is that rents, although on the rise, are not as extortionately high as they are in Hong Kong.
The big creative network of the city can be quite tight-knit, especially for the start-up sector, and being close to production and manufacturing centres makes for a killer combination. Zhao feels that, especially for fashion designers, Shanghai is the best place to be on the mainland."Shanghai is such an international city, such a melting pot," says Zhao. "We're inspired by the environment, the architecture and the people coming in and out, who bring new ideas and take our culture to the rest of the world."